I am a sole parent mum with a young son who is in primary school. In April this year, the home I grew up in and lived in for decades was sold by my father who lives interstate, and I only found out after the settlement. My son and I are now facing imminent homelessness.
My son has serious health issues, including multiple food allergies, anaphylaxis and asthma, that have constrained my ability to look for and secure paid employment. Since last year, I have been transferred from the parenting payment single to the jobseeker payment, which is substantially lower. This payment, which was designed to support an out-of-work adult, is now expected to be enough for a parent and child to live on – an impossibility with the exorbitant cost of rent these days.
My son’s father is estranged and moved overseas. He pays just $30 a fortnight in child support. The local housing organisation repeatedly tells me there is no public or social housing available and the waiting time is 15 years. There is no transitional or priority housing available, so mums like me and their children are often forced to sleep on friends’ couches or in cars.
Our new prime minister has spoken extensively about being brought up by a single mum in public housing, as if to indicate that anyone in Australia can get ahead and end up at the top. Well, maybe that was the case when he was a child and Gough Whitlam was prime minister. Australian life has become a lot harsher for those with less, and the safety net for low-income single parent families has all but disappeared.
So, what are some possible solutions to this crisis?
Prioritise public and social housing for sole parent families so that the threat of homelessness is not a reality for mums and their kids.
Increase rent assistance in line with market value rental prices. The maximum rent assistance a single parent can receive is $85 a week, but you can’t even find a basic two-bedroom unit for under $350 a week.
Cap rental prices so that families on low incomes are not having to pay more than 30% of their income on rent, which is the benchmark used by real estate agencies to determine if an applicant can afford a rental.
Reinstate the parenting payment single until our children turn 16 at an amount we can actually live on.
Increase jobseeker and other payments for sole parents. The additional coronavirus supplement went some way to alleviating poverty and buffering the burden of the increasingly high cost of living, but that ended in March 2021.
I have tried to contact the prime minister before and after he was elected to put forward viable options to help sole parent families in my situation, but I have only ever received a stock-standard email reply and never any follow-up. I would put it to Anthony Albanese that if he was a child of a sole parent today, he would be living in poverty and likely be homeless, as governments are doing absolutely nothing to address the housing crisis and stubbornly refuse to lift welfare payments above the poverty line.
My greatest fear is that soon my son and I will be forced to leave our home with no options or support. Without addressing the dire housing crisis in Australia, there is no way that people can find paid employment or hold down a job. In psychology, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has housing as the most fundamental human need by which all else follows. In other words, housing is a basic human right and should not be for-profit as is the case in Australia today with so many investors driving prices sky-high. We are far from the days when Robert Menzies made home ownership affordable across the board.
Instead of punishing low-income families, and in particular sole parent families, by forcing them into homelessness and a life of poverty with increasing costs of living, help them get a foot on the ladder and a chance to find adequate employment by enabling them to have a safe and secure roof over their heads. This would provide a fair go for all, improve people’s physical and mental health and make Australia once again a great place to live.
The author is a sole parent who lives in Melbourne. She has requested her name not be published